The Gaucho Way

9-DAY Horse Ride IN PATAGONIA, CHILE

Explore an untouched and largely unknown part of wild Patagonia.  The Gaucho Way is our signature route.  It follows traditional routes used by the Gauchos, Chilean cowboys who are friends and neighbors.  Horseback, they herd cattle to market and return to their homesteads with flour, sugar, yerba mate and other sundries.  The Gaucho Way connotes both their passage through the mountain landscape and their distinctive, gracious culture.   We ride through beautiful valleys, lush forests, craggy mountain trails, and sandy beaches all with the Northern Patagonia Icefield rising 10,000 feet above you.

The horse is one of the most salient features of everyday rural life and to ride a horse in the great expanse of wild Patagonia is more than a simple adventure. It is also a chance to become momentarily immersed in the distinctive and gracious culture of the local cowboys, or gauchos, and to be offered a glimpse into one of the most traditional sectors of Chilean society.

Day by Day at a Glance:

  • Day 1: Depart country of origin on international flight to Santiago, Chile (SCL). 
  • Day 2: Arrive Santiago.  Domestic flight to Balmaceda Regional Airport (BBA).  Private transfer to Puerto Bertrand.  Boat shuttle to Patagonia Frontiers Main Ranch. Overnight at Patagonia Frontiers Guest House, Main Ranch.
  • Day 3Orientation and day ride. Overnight at PF Guest House, Main Ranch.
  • Day 4: Begin multi-day horse ride in Solér Valley and Cacho Valley.  12 km. (7 mi.). Overnight Tent Camp at Cacho Ranch.
  • Day 5: Continue ride toward Northern Patagonia Icefield.  12-18 km. (7-11 mi.). Overnight at Tent Camp at Cacho Ranch
  • Day 6: Complete multi-day horse ride.  Traditional Patagonia Asado (BBQ).  12-16 km. (7-10 mi.) Overnight at PF Guest House, Main Ranch
  • Day 7: Boat shuttle to Puerto Bertrand.  Raft the Baker River.  Option for day hike or game viewing in Patagonia National Park. Overnight Pto. Bertrand at Local Guest Cabin or Bed and Breakfast
  • Day 8: Private transfer to Balmaceda Regional Airport.  Domestic flight to Santiago.  Begin international flight.
  • Day 9: Arrive final destination.

Detailed Itinerary:

Day 1: Depart your country of origin on an international flight to Santiago, Chile (SCL).

Day 2: Upon arrival to the Santiago airport you transfer to a domestic flight.  Your driver will meet you at the regional Balmaceda airport (BBA) where you will continue your journey.  You travel south on the Austral Highway on pavement and improved gravel roads.  In nearly 300 kilometers of driving you pass just two small villages, Villa Cerro Castillo, at the foot of the impressive peak that in its name, and Puerto Río Tranquilo, a village on the shores of Lago General Carrera, Chile’s largest lake and South America’s second largest lake.

You continue south, poised between the profound blue waters of the lake and the sharp, snowy peaks flanking the Northern Patagonia Icefield.  You arrive at the tiny hamlet of Puerto Bertrand, located at the headwaters of the Baker River, Chile’s largest volume river, a world-class fishery and the centerpiece of a dormant, yet contentious dam-building project by the Spanish energy consortium Endesa.

This is your departure point for Patagonia Frontiers.  You board a boat and travel 16 kilometers (10 mi.) across two connected lakes to reach our dock and main ranch.  There are no roads here.  Once you’ve met your guides and staff and had a look around you’ll get settled into your accommodations in the guest house.

Driving time is approximately six hours with a one-hour boat shuttle.

Day 3: This morning you meet some of the ranch’s sturdy Criollo mounts and become familiar with the comfortable Gaucho tack.  Plan on riding and exploring as you get to know the horses and some of the surrounding terrain.

The horse is one of the most salient features of everyday rural life here and visitors soon notice the ubiquitous mount, saddled and waiting outside each sparsely scattered homestead.  Here, the relationship between horse and rider begins early in life.  It is no surprise to come across a child atop a horse, far from anybody, confidently riding along a mountain path.

In the evening loads are prepared for panniers and packhorses that will accompany you on the next portion of your trip.  You spend the night in the guest house.

Day 4: Begin the day with yerba mate, a bitter tea sipped from a gourd through a metal straw.  It is a traditional start to any Patagonia day and an important social custom.  After a hearty breakfast the horses are saddled, the packhorses loaded with food and camping gear, and you begin your ride.

The long valleys, lush temperate forests and mountain peaks offer a wide variety of terrain in which to ride and it’s not uncommon to see soaring condors or even the elusive huemul, a small endangered deer that appears on the Chilean coat of arms.  The varied terrain means that you’ll be able to experience everything from craggy mountain trails to long, sandy beaches, and always with a backdrop of the majestic mountain panorama.

Tonight’s destination is situated on the banks of the Cacho River at the beginning of another Patagonia Frontiers ranch.  This tent camp is located just beyond the intersection of two large valleys facing each other across the Solér Valley floor.  This is one of our favorite spots in the valley and we always sense energy here, be it from the massive peaks, the open space, the flowing water, or the pristine landscape. There’s contentment here in an evening fire, enjoying good company, and watching the horses graze against a slowly darkening backdrop that reveals southern stars above white, jagged peaks.

Riding distance is approximately 12 km.  (7 mi.)

Day 5: Mate and breakfast are around a campfire this morning as you watch the long, creeping approach of the morning’s sun slip down from the peak tops to the valley floor.  Today, you ride and explore an untouched depth of wild Patagonia that is seldom revealed. 

If the day is clear your views will encompass the immediately surrounding peaks and glaciers, five and six thousand feet in elevation above you, as well as the awe-inspiring and formidable Northern Patagonia Icefield with Cerro Hyades standing firm at the head of the Cacho Valley.  The difference in elevation between your horse’s hooves and the summit of this colossus peak is 10,000 feet!

Along the way is old-growth forest of Coigüe, or Dombey’s beech, with its elegant branches and thick, lustrous evergreen leaves.  The large Magellanic woodpecker is frequently seen here, or heard, with its resoundingly deep echo reverberating through the air as it searches for grubs in the ruin of aged trunks.  This is also home to the endangered huemul, or South Andean Deer, as well predators such as the Geoffroy’s Cat, Patagonian Fox and Puma.  Hidden in plain view, inconspicuous amongst the grandeur of so much else, is a marble mountainside.

While weather, river levels, and your equine partner along with the group’s energy ultimately influence the furthest point of the ride, when conditions permit you may reach as far as the massive glacier’s edge before returning to the tent camp for the night.

Riding distance is approximately 12-18 km. (7-11 mi.)

Day 6: As the sunlight edges toward camp from across the river you’ll sip yerba mate around the morning fire and marvel as the light plays over the peaks of snow, ice and rock.  There’s plenty of time to enjoy the morning routine before packing camp, saddling and loading the horses, and heading back home down valley.  Perhaps you’ll have an opportunity to pass by one of our few neighbor’s homesteads on the far side of the Solér Valley, subsistence ranches deep in the wilderness and enclaves of human presence and affable hospitality.

Evening brings a customary Patagonia barbeque, or asado.  Guests, staff and neighbors traditionally all share in this feast of meat, slow-roasted over an open fire, new potatoes, fresh salads from the greenhouse, bread and wine.  Don’t be surprised to find yourself staying up late listening to the strumming of a guitar and a soft, Spanish melody.

Riding distance is approximately 12-18 km. (7-11 mi.)

Day 7: Breath in this morning’s invigorating, cool air.  Spend the morning on a stroll along the beach, or through the orchards, gardens and greenhouses.  Take a walk in the pasture and share a moment with the horses, or simply relax as you prepare to say goodbye to the ranch and shuttle by boat to Puerto Bertrand.  The dock there is the departure point for a whitewater rafting descent of the crystal-clear powerhouse that is the Baker River.  Optional activities include a visit to the mighty Confluencia, the junction of the Baker and Nef rivers as they thunder over a precipitous drop.  You’re also close by the Chacabuco Valley, site of the newly formed Patagonia National Park, an excellent spot for game viewing guanaco, condor, fox and other wildlife.

You overnight and freshen up in Puerto Bertrand at a local guest cabin, or bed and breakfast.

Day 8: Your driver will meet you for the return north directly to the regional Balmaceda airport, your domestic flight to Santiago and international departure.

Day 9: Arrive final destination.

We hope that this sample itinerary offers you a good idea of what this trip offers.  In the end, each trip is best crafted by working together with our guests and clients.  Ultimately, we look at a successful trip as requiring collaboration to come up with the best components.  Each trip’s duration, activity types, and level of difficulty are readily adapted to meet a party’s goals and wishes.

Whether you choose an established itinerary or create one of your own, our commitment is to accommodating your interests and to providing you with a thoroughly enjoyable, safe and memorable experience.  Even after living here for more than 30 years this land still thrills us and we love sharing it with others.  We look forward to hosting you at our wilderness ranch home.

Other Sample Itineraries: